Explaining a chronic illness

Posted on February 12, 2018. Filed under: grief, Health, Suicide | Tags: , , |

If you want to know how people REALLY think about mental health, read on about my little experiment.

When strangers or acquaintances learn that my husband passed recently, they may broach the topic of how he died. I don’t mind. This is what I tell them:

“My husband was very sick for a long time. He unfortunately was misdiagnosed for about 20 years. The medication he was given definitely kept him alive – it wasn’t an ideal life, but we didn’t know any better. Then, with a new physician, we got his proper diagnosis, but then we had to go down this path of trying to find the medication that would work without the side effects that he couldn’t tolerate, especially the horrible insomnia. Sleeping only 2 hours a night for 3 weeks is just not sustainable. We tried everything! We just ran out of time before we could find the right medication. We found the true diagnosis too late, and we couldn’t land on the right treatment for him before he passed.”

I get the sorrowful looks, and the kind words of sympathy. Then, they ask what his illness was.

“He was bipolar. He completed suicide.”

If I had a nickel for every shocked look I get…

That’s right. It wasn’t cancer. It wasn’t an autoimmune disorder. No congenital defects from childhood. It was mental illness. And nothing about what I said is any less true about his illness or the search for treatment or his death.

When I start out by explaining that he was sick and completed suicide, there is incredible judgment about his “abandonment” of me and our little girl, or his “selfish choice” or whatever. Come on, guys. Would you EVER tell the loved one of a cancer patient that their chronic illness resulting in death was an abandonment or a poor, selfish choice? Completely ridiculous, right?



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